Note: My sense is that the above meme is one of those “not really from the Buddha” quotes (which is very common), as the phrasing seems off to me personally. But I include it still because I think it is good quote (and, of course, I could also be wrong about it not being from the Buddha, too!).
This is me trying to make sense of things for myself in terms of discovering what my own work is here and what’s fueling my own personal discomfort. I reckon this will be a hard post for me to put into words, but here’s to giving it a whirl:
I bristle and inwardly step back from people who self-identity as activists. And I do the same for vegans. Why? It’s not because I’m against what they stand for or the active choices and priorities they’re making in their life. It’s the energy behind the actions I’m not a big fan of. No one enjoys being talked at by someone who is fired up by something – even when that something is important. And really, even talking with someone who doesn’t share your exact standpoint and lifestyle can be incredibly tricky. Even under the best circumstances, well-intentioned people can cause more harm than good. Just because we have good intentions, doesn’t mean we know how to engage with people in such a way that fosters connection, kindness, and understanding. Sometimes, even when we think we’re doing good, the impact we have on others is harmful. Having good intentions doesn’t automatically inoculate us from causing damage (I recently learned this in a 2-month long weekly class series on developing racial literacy that I just finished).
I’ve been recently making my way through the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings one by one, alongside a friend of mine who’s doing the same. We’re spending two weeks on each training – reading it every day and occasionally journaling about what comes up for us in regards to it. Then we meet once a month to talk about what we’ve discovered for ourselves. We’re on #3 right now: Freedom of Thought. The first two are: Openness and Non-attachment to Views. The first three of the fourteen all have to do with our mind – just as the start of the Eightfold Path starts off with Right View. As the Buddha said: With our thoughts we make the world.
It’s very difficult – if not impossible – to be an activist (and oftentimes a vegan), without being attached to views. So I suppose I could say that I shy away from people who seem to be overly attached to their views in regards to something in particular. Whether it be politics, the environment, lifestyle choices, matters of injustice, etc., I gravitate away from folks who I see as over-identifying themselves with a certain subject. I’m not saying it’s the right way to be or that I don’t have work to do around this, mind you, this is simply me stating a self-observation.
For instance, I am someone who interfaces very atypically with the world of Facebook. I never go into my feed and I seldom know what my friends are posting about. Instead, I make a point to go directly to certain friends’ pages once in a while to catch up on what they’ve been up to. I might pop in on a friend’s page once a week or it might be more like once every two weeks. It depends on the person and how close I am to them. (I do, however, keep an eye on my notifications and messages so that I stay alerted to invites and personal correspondence, which I used to ignore). I know a number of people who post primarily about what they’re amped up about, which is often something pertaining to either: politics, environmental degradation, human rights, animal rights, or other forms of social activism. I tend to visit these pages less often.
Last month, I attended a public talk by Venerable Drimay, a visiting nun in the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. I enjoyed her teachings very much. As usual, I took a lot of notes during her talk. She said:
Divisiveness is when people are divided in points of view and values. Why is this a problem? IS it a problem? We can feel uncomfortable and fearful; it can block progress, cause separation, cause closed hearts. And a closed heart can generate anger and hatred.
Anger comes from being blocked to something I’m attached to.
Not everyone thinks the same issues are a matter of concern.
I know for myself, I not only want people to understand my views but I want them to CONVERT to them.
When we see each other as different, it blocks our heart. When we can start seeing each other as the same, it opens up communication and possibilities.
It IS a problem having our people partitioned off.
Whether it’s racism, animal cruelty, global warming, domestic violence, homelessness, LGBTQ+ rights, suicide awareness and education, mental illness support, environmental protection, or any number of other worthy and important matters that deeply impact the well-being of our earth and its inhabitants, we are all called to dig the well in different spots. And thank goodness for that. We can’t all pick up the same important matter and tend only to that one thing – and we can’t ALL tend to ALL matters in need of attention, support and transformation, there’s simply not enough time in the day or energy in any one person’s capacity. And it’s important to keep in mind that a common thread for any matter pertaining to the stewardship and care for people, animals, or the environment is the fact that these are systemic issues, meaning they are deeply entrenched and enfolded into our very way of life. They will not be undone overnight – or maybe even over the course of our lifespan. This doesn’t mean we give up, of course. It means that it’s worth keeping a realistic and well-grounded perspective and view in regards to where and how we’re digging whatever well we’ve chosen to pick up a shovel near.
If we’re not anchored in realistic ideas when it comes to the well we’re digging on behalf of making the world a better place, we’re likely to experience feelings of self-righteousness, deep inner disharmony, exhaustion, fear, frustration, sorrow, and isolation. If we identify with being an activist and we feel isolated in our chosen cause – and perhaps also mistreated by our loved ones and discounted by our collective society – it’s not the fault of those we feel have left us on an ice flow to drift out to sea, it’s because we’ve separated ourselves. Perhaps we’ve created some form of division and discord by having lapsed over into the territory of wanting to convert people to our way of experiencing the world – we don’t want people to just listen and understand, we want them to DO what WE are doing in a very specific way. Perhaps we’re not in touch with our impact on others and the energy with which we’re delivering the information we so desperately want others to receive. Perhaps we’ve lost sight of our shared humanity and the truth of how life and people and systemic issues work.
How we feel is never someone else’s fault. It’s never someone else that needs to change. It’s always us. Every time. I know this is a hard pill to swallow. Truly. I re-experience this truth on a regular and ongoing basis and it sucks pretty much every time – though, it has gotten easier to swallow.
It is never someone else that needs to change.
It’s always me.
Every single freakin time.
There are no exceptions.
As is often the case, I’m delightfully unsure as to how I got here. I started off this post not knowing where I was going to end up or how I would weave myself through the woods of this particular subject. And this is why some of us writers write: to discover parts of ourselves that might never have surfaced any other way.
I do know that I’m sure glad I ended on the it’s always me that needs to change note. Because it’s not the people I see as activists or who call themselves activists or the vegans of the world that need to do anything to alleviate my personal feelings of discomfort. It’s not “them” needing to change. It’s me. And a large part of this issue for me personally is that I do create a divide here: them/me. As long as my view is steeped in separateness, I will continue to be caught in my illusory notions and views, which equates to a closed heart.
Thanks for following me through the thicket, it genuinely helps me on my journey.